Freshman syllabus

college-just-aheadI dropped off my twins at college. Two separate colleges. They were handed all sorts of orientation materials – maps, rules, class lists. But nothing to orient them to this life transition: learning how to believe in yourself in a competitive environment, trust a friend with secrets, or figure out if a friendship is becoming intimate. There is no syllabus for having a fair fight or managing jealously.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a life transition syllabus? It would be helpful to know something about what is ahead when building new community and habits in an unfamiliar place. Here are a few benchmarks that I would include:

Comfort:

  • People may look fine from the outside, but lots are struggling and not talking about it
  • Finding people that make your heart sing takes time―lots of time
  • You have to introduce yourself over and over again and it is really awkward

Confidence:

  • Say hi to the person sitting alone in the dining hall
  • Exposure to different people and experiences will build your skills for the next time
  • You are stronger than you think
  • Fantastic teachers will inspire you

Autonomy:

  • You will figure out how to balance class demands with all the rest of campus life
  • The first people you connect with may not be your friends at the end of the year
  • How you look, sound, move through the world is unique

I want my daughters and all young people entering college to know that they are good enough even if other people feel smarter or cooler. You are fabulous enough to take up space, get your questions answered by a professor, and be taken seriously by your peers. You, just you, are enough.

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

The First Woman and African American Librarian of Congress Was Just Confirmed “Hayden is currently the chief executive of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, where she earned praise for keeping the library open during unrest in the city after the shooting death of Freddie Gray. The library became a community meeting space for people in search of information—and even food—during the protests.”

Obama, Biden Won’t Visit Universities That Fall Short In Addressing Sexual Assault “A group of 31 U.S. senators recently warned colleges and universities may be underreporting sexual assaults and domestic violence on campus. Just 9 percent of 11,000 schools required to report the number of assaults on campus said they had any occurrence of such crimes.”

A Single Photo From Baton Rouge That’s Hard to Forget “It is a remarkable picture. A single woman stands in the roadway, feet firmly planted. She poses no obvious threat. She is there to protest the excessive force which Baton Rouge police allegedly deploy against the city’s black citizens. She stands in front of police headquarters, on Saturday. And she is being arrested by officers who look better prepared for a war than a peaceful protest.”

An open letter to my son

"Almost done"Last Thursday you sent me this picture with the message “almost done.” Your dorm room was clean and you were packing up to come home. You have done more than survive your first year of college; you have done well. You ran with discipline, you took your classes seriously, you made friends, you found your way. I’ve told you I’m proud of you, and here it is in writing. I mean it.

I’m glad you’re home. I always need to look at you, have you close, to know that you’re still whole. These are troubling times.

I had intended to write to you about the Stanford rape case. I want to know if you read the victim’s statement. And what do you make of what Brock Turner’s father said? I had thought I would write about justice and how I don’t think the answer is to give Brock Turner the same sentence a Black man would get. That’s the wrong twist on equality.

I want you to be invincible, especially now in a world that seems so destructive, but I worry about how invincibility contributes to momentary lapses in judgment that can have devastating consequences. I worry about you being hurt. If you are, I will do everything I can to help you heal and be whole again. I worry about you hurting someone else. If you do, I will do everything I can to help you take responsibility and to explore a justice that can help everyone with healing and wholeness.

I was overwhelmed by the last paragraph of the victim’s statement. I read it over and over―her promise to girls everywhere. In spite of what she has been through, she claims her power and extends it to others, with love and with hope. It was a victory of sorts―she will not be defined by what Brock Turner did to her. None of us will. Not the young women you run and party with. And not you. That’s the point. You are not Brock Turner. You can stand with her.

That would have been the end of this letter. But then the shooting in Orlando happened, and I can’t ignore it. The airwaves are exploding with information and opinion. It’s as if the piecing together of timelines and facts will make sense of something that makes no sense at all. There should be no war of attribution here: ISIS, homophobia, domestic violence, guns. The protections we have created, and the ways we enforce them, don’t work. Could any amount of knowledge and any number of warnings have stopped Omar Mateen from doing what he did? Punishment and isolation are not the antidotes for hatred. Already this is coming through with Pride.

My thoughts are not as coherent as I want them to be. All I am trying to say is that your humanity has been compromised by Brock Turner and Omar Mateen. There are limits to what a mother’s fierce love for her son can provide. Until you return to campus for your sophomore year, I can have the illusion of making the world right for you and keeping you whole. Today that is what I have. I’m glad you’re home.

College bound

It is senior year of high school for my twin daughters and I find myself talking about college applications with all kinds of people. I was getting my nails done when the owner of the salon―a Vietnamese immigrant―asked me for information about the application process and due dates. She was relying on her son to translate and she wasn’t sure that she was getting all the information she needed. It took me several days, but I managed to find a free college counseling resource that could communicate in Vietnamese.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to try to navigate this process when English is your second language. We had to hire a college counselor to help us. We filled out 28 pages of different financial aid forms. We checked our daughters’ online applications and read their college essay questions. Even with the resources, time, and teamwork at our disposal, it was still hard.

And what about people who have another whole layer of chaos in their lives? How do you manage this transition in your child’s life if you are in an abusive relationship? What if you have to anticipate and work around a partner who humiliates and controls you? When all your decisions are undermined by your partner, how can you figure out what questions to ask and if there is help to get answers?

College boundSending your kid to college is a dream for many parents, and it can feel even more pressing if it is their ticket out of an abusive home. But that’s not possible if it takes professional help just to fill out the forms. We can change this system and we must make it accessible. The vision of all girls moving forward depends on us.

News you can relate to

Some stories that caught our eye this week:

What It Looks Like When A University Truly Fixes How It Handles Sexual Assault “Could institutionally courageous statements and actions actually lessen the impact of sexual assault? Are some of these statements not just good PR, but actually public health intervention?”

Trauma Survival is Messy: Can We Have Good Memories of Our Abusers? “We had catches phrases and silly moments — lots of them. We had inside jokes about everything from soup to laundry. We went bowling and out to dinner. He was an incredible gift giver…. I don’t want to erase seven years of my life and I shouldn’t have to just because bystanders can’t understand that trauma victims — like all human beings — are capable of holding simultaneous, conflicting feelings and thoughts.”

How one professional baseball player from Venezuela gives back “Félix works closely with youth in the Seattle area promoting the power of education. He is also a voice for the Refuse To Abuse® campaign which raises awareness to prevent domestic violence toward women — an issue ignored by male sports leagues in the US for too long.”

I stand with you

StandWithPPIn September, my Facebook feed became saturated with the #IStandwithPlannedParenthood campaign. People I haven’t seen or heard from in over 10 years were talking about going to Planned Parenthood and how it helped them. I wasn’t surprised by all the support—Planned Parenthood has helped me too. But I was surprised to see a post from one of my closest friends where she shared her experience going there for an abortion. I realized that during that time period I had seen her almost every day. I had sat with her in class, done homework with her, and gone out for meals, all the while having no clue that this was going on in her life.

I debated for a long time whether or not to bring it up, but I eventually did. I told her how bad I felt that I hadn’t noticed that something so difficult was going on in her life. She said it was hard to go through alone, but didn’t talk about it because she was ashamed, embarrassed, and thought no one would understand. Of course that made sense to me, I’ve had those times too. I felt that way about the time a guy I was dating in college assaulted me, even though I know that’s fairly common. It was a sad moment when we realized that we could have been supporting each other. Then we got mad. Why didn’t we feel comfortable talking to each other? Gah, patriarchy had been wining!

But ever since that time, we’ve been using our experiences to fight against the patriarchy. She’s using her experience to demand that health, reproductive care, and options are widely available. My experience has been a slow burning fire that keeps me committed to my work in the domestic violence movement. Instead of standing by ourselves, we are standing side by side.

Football gets it right

Mizzou-logoThis Saturday, I’ll be cheering for the Mizzou Tigers. The entire team will take the field to play a game that might not have happened. Earlier this week, 30 players said they would not play. Thirty players who supported the growing unrest on campus in the wake of the administration’s refusal to address racism and anti-Semitism throughout the University of Missouri system. Thirty players who were concerned about a fellow student’s hunger strike. Thirty players who said: We love the game, but at the end of the day, it’s just that—a game.

They knew that the Board of Curators, alumni, and team boosters would not sit still for a forfeiture loss of $1 million dollars. They knew that nearby Ferguson was not random. And they took a stand. The next day, University of Missouri president Timothy Wolfe resigned, and the Columbia campus chancellor quickly followed. The Board of Curators has vowed to take immediate steps to interrupt patterns of hatred and violence that have disrupted the school since it was desegregated in 1950.

NFL players should take note. If you care about injustice in your community, take a Sunday or a Monday or a Thursday off. If you’re sick of the violence—racial violence, gender violence, anti-immigrant violence, etc.—boycott your own game. Maybe your coaches will support you. And maybe your fans will too. I know I will.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

#CoverTheAthlete points out how weird it would be if journalists talked about male athletes’ bodies the way they talk about female athletes’

Franchesca “chescaleigh” Ramsey brings us White People Whitesplain Whitesplaining, an excellent example of how speaking for others, even with the best of intentions, is not nearly as powerful as listening to them.

What If Bears Killed One In Five People? We wouldn’t put up with that. But 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted by the time they finish college, so why aren’t we putting a stop to it?